Wednesday, 10 April 1918

This post is part of a series post-blogging the Australian mystery aeroplane panic of 1918. See here for an introduction or here for a list of all posts.

AM Black, 4 April 1918

NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 109 is a copy of a letter from A. M. Black to Major Hogan of the 'Intelligence Service'. It's undated, but NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 108 (a cover letter from military intelligence to naval intelligence) says that it was written on 10 April 1918; the incident it relates to seems to have happened back on 1 April. Black's letter is terse and doesn't bother to explain who he is or why he writes, just that he is passing on some notes from 'E.V.G.' (a scrawled annotation here says, I think, 'Greenway') who is 'now at Tarwin but who was down at Woodside last week'. These notes are on the following page, NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 110, and read:

1st. April Ls [lights?] in Hills also L on Hummock east of our place
Air Craft flying from West to East at 9 o'clock fired Star Shell burn over sea.
Report from E.V.G.
Newlands also sending report.

The last two lines are presumably added by Black, who also adds some further details in his letter:

  • E.V.G. 'also mentioned a light in the shape of' (here there is a typed representation of an L-shaped group of 5 or 6 dots)
  • E.V.G. 'said the noise of the plane was quite distinct & well as it being clearly seen' (presumably '&' is meant to be 'as')
  • 'Light in hummocks referred to was signalling by code (unknown to E.V.G.)'
  • 'Next day on searching the spot was seen -- hole in sand and fresh marks'

Who is Black? He's clearly a civilian and not writing in any official capacity; he wanted E.V.G. to write a fuller report, but instead only got a few 'remarks' from him 'just before leaving for my train'. He writes from St Kilda, a Melbourne suburb (the house is still there and looks quite grand); there is an 'A.M. Black, Tarwin' mentioned in The Age in May as the seller of some dairy cows. So I would guess he is a grazier. From his brevity I suspect he had already been in contact with Major Hogan, though not enough to warrant informality. He could have been following up an earlier letter which mentioned E.V.G.'s sighting, or perhaps he had been in more regular contact, patriotically alerting the 'Intelligence Service' to anything which he thought warranted their attention. Certainly on this occasion Hogan not only thought Black's information interesting, but worth passing on to the Navy (for his part, Lieutenant-Commander Latham, the head of naval intelligence, 'should be glad of further information'). E.V.G. (and Newlands) is probably a farmer too, but it's hard to say for sure.

In my article I cite this as a case where there were physical traces of the mystery aeroplane -- or whatever it was: given the lack of details the 'marks' could have been anything. I notice that I say that this incident took place at Tarwin (presumably at or near the modern Tarwin Lower); but while Black's letter is a bit ambiguous here, I would now read it as saying that it happened at Woodside (otherwise why would he bother to mention E.V.G. had been there before Tarwin?) And that's what it says on the file's (very useful) index page at NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 720, and also how I've tagged it in my own database. They're both in Gippsland in the southeastern coastal region of Victoria, but over a hundred kilometres apart. So I don't know how I managed to get so confused; perhaps because there was a seperate mystery aeroplane report from Tarwin later in April. Maybe next time I will have got everything right...

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